home and garden

You can go home again -- again

       I believe the saying, "You can't go home again." is not always true. I am home again in South Dakota, not in the house I grew up in, but with the people I grew up with. For me that's what makes it home, that and the streets so familiar in the way they look and even the way they smell that I sometimes feel tears bubbling up on my morning walks.
      I am grateful for the memories that come surging back as I pass my childhood home and the houses of close friends. And I'm equally grateful for the sense of home that continues to grow as I build new memories with my brothers, their wonderful wives and  wonderful children. Home, I believe, is a work in progress, not just an historical construct.
     My grown children are not here this summer, but I appreciate that for them this place will always be part of their sense of home. They have memories of running through the sprinkler on hot summer nights and at Christmas sledding down the hill by my mother's house in the moonlight. They have memories of happy and sad times with their family here. They have created home in this place and with these people and I'm comforted in knowing that "home" for them, as it is for me, is always under construction.


Just a little rain lately has inspired my annual battle with oxalis and sour onions.

Weeding 'in the zone' is a pleasure like no other

There are many gardening chores that the average person might find unpleasant, but to a gardener they are part of the fun. Weeding is one of these -- but not just any weeding. The greatest pleasure is weeding "in the zone." That is a short but wonderful snippet of time that many gardeners recognize. These zones have a lot to do with the condition of the soil. In spring there are a few gentle days that occur between the rainy periods and the dry periods.
Or you can help nature along with a good soaking. The clay soil in my region goes from the texture of cream cheese to terra cotta in about three days. So in between those conditions there is a day when the soil is perfect, dry enough to be workable and moist enough to release the weed willingly -- roots and all. As much as I love plants, I'm equally fond of a freshly weeded and cultivated patch of dark, rich soil.
Even the smell of the earth changes as it opens up and releases the weeds. Pulling up the weed breaks the surface and lets it breathe again after a winter of being pounded by the rain. And almost as satisfying is watching the pile of oxalis and other undesirables fill the weed basket.
When my daughter was a toddler, one of her first words was "oxalis." I was so pleased, because I wanted to raise a gardener, or at least a weeder. She followed me around in the yard getting as muddy as I and asking, "Mommy, is this oxalis?" Tiny hands were good at fitting into the places where this sneaky weed hides, next to the stems of favorite flowers. And when, by the age of 4, my daughter was able to tell the difference between wild onions and emerging freesias, well, I couldn't have been more proud if she'd been giving violin recitals.
My equipment for these events is simple. Sometimes I start off with good intentions, with my foam knee pad, gardener's stool and heavy gloves. But usually it's just me and my trusty Japanese cultivating tool. It would probably be more sensible to use the substantial gardening gloves, but there's something more connected, more part of the process with bare hands. My compromise is often latex surgical gloves. I grab a pocketful of them as I go into the yard. I measure the accomplishments of the day not just by the volume of weeds but by how many gloves I wear out in the process. My other favorite tool is an old paring knife that digs up stubborn roots. Some roots elude me, but not many.
When the job is complete, the remaining plants look so beautiful against the dark, smooth soil. For several days the next pesky weeds in waiting do not emerge, so I can go back into the yard and feel again the satisfaction of hands in the dirt and of creating a little bit of order, where a little bit is just the right amount.
Susan DeMersseman is a psychologist and parent educator in Berkeley. E-mail her athome@sfchronicle.com.
This article appeared on page HO - 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle


The plum tree is in full bloom again. From my office window I watch a troupe of bees doing a dizzy dance of plenty around the fluffy branches.


For most of the year the plum tree in our back yard is a nuisance. It hangs over the driveway and drops its seasonal debris on my car. In the fall the leaves drop. In the summer the tasteless plums drop or are thrown down by the squirrels. And at random times the raccoons break off a branch that lands on the car hood and causes a small dent or scratch. BUT for a few glorious days in the spring the tree completely redeems itself.
If we are really fortunate and the rain or wind don’t come at this time we are treated to a wonderful event, the tree in full bloom. The tree makes the yard smell divine and it looks like a giant party dress made of white lace.
 From my office window I have a special treat when the sun is setting. The light is warm gold on the top of the Oak behind the bright white plum. The pictures here are a feeble attempt to capture and share this moment.
So when the leaves fall and the sticky plums cover my car I remember these few days. It’s all worth it.

Weezer's Chocolate Sundae Pie

Chocolate Sundae Pie
This recipe is at least 60 years old and was often the dessert at special dinners of our family back in South Dakota. The Weezer refers to our mother, Louise.

1 cup evaporated milk
½ cup water
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
3 egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
1/8  teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon gelatin
3 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 egg whites beaten stiff
1 cup sweetened whipped cream
¼ cup grated unsweetened chocolate
1 baked pie shell

Heat milk and water in double boiler with nutmeg.
Beat egg yolks, sugar and salt until light.
Pour hot milk over the egg mixture returning to double boiler and cook until the consistency of thick cream.
Remove from fire, add gelatin which has been soaked 5 minutes in cold water and vanilla and cool.
When cool and ready to set, fold in beaten egg whites.
Pour into baked pie shell.
Set in refrigerator.
When cold and set cover with whipped cream and grate on chocolate.

My garden takes care of me

Gardeners will understand the feeling behind this older piece from the Chronicle. The quote below is one of my favorites.

"When the world wearies, and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the Garden." 
—- Minnie Aumonier

Gardener feels grateful for her high-maintenance yard / Tending to nature soothes the soul

Published 4:00 am, Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Some people want sprinkler systems, drip systems and drought tolerant -- even neglect-tolerant -- plants, but that's not the case with some of us. We like our high-maintenance yards. These yards often feel more like gardens in the way they provide for us. They are there whenever we need them -- with whatever we need.
I agree with other devoted gardeners who also observe the amazing timing a garden can have. When things seem complicated and chaotic, there is a bush that needs pruning into an orderly, more simple shape. When my children are ungrateful or annoying, I go into my garden and see that the bloom-booster I put on last week is already encouraging tiny buds. When my husband is busy and preoccupied, there is an area that needs me to spend some time and water it. When I have waited in vain for a letter from an editor, I come to the garden and find a new shoot on the cutting I'm trying to start. When I need to blow off steam there are bamboo leaves in the juniper hedge and I can whack them out with the broom. Or I can find a few big weeds to pull up and feel a sense of triumph.
The garden always seems to have just what I need -- a patch to mow, a hedge to trim. A place to clear my head and sometimes my heart. For all the time I spend on it, my garden should look like Versailles. But to me, it looks even more beautiful.
One evening my neighbor passed walking his dog as I pruned in the fading sunset. He barely stopped, but said, "When I die, I want to come back as a plant in your yard." I think he has seen how much I care for my garden. But I don't think anyone has seen how my garden has cared for me.